The Steelers would be better off without Ben Roethlisberger under center in 2021.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers are in a concerning situation. After going 11-0 to begin the year, the Steelers’ hype halted, leading to one win in the final five weeks and an early playoff exit.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II and GM Kevin Colbert were non-committal about the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback’s return under center in 2021. They have every right to be as more teams realize the quarterback role is the difference between success and failure.
Before going any further: No, this isn’t about money. One look at Roethlisberger’s $41.25 million cap hit is enough to send even the sanest Steelers fans running for the hills.
This is about production, an area Roethlisberger has fallen off in the past two seasons. An elbow injury jeopardized his career after the start of 2019.
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert doesn't give a strong endorsement for Ben Roethlisberger as QB in 2021: "As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. … He reiterated to us that he wants to continue to play. We told him we have to look at this current situation."
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) February 17, 2021
His 33 touchdowns in 2020 all but salvaged at least the conversation of playing another year.
It shouldn’t. That’s only one part of the story.
The other part is the regression during what some would consider a successful year. It’s why Roethlisberger’s time in the Steel City should be done.
Roethlisberger’s overall regression hurt the Steelers
Big Ben enters his final season of a two-year, $68 million extension signed back in 2019. He’ll be due a $15 million bonus should he be on the roster by March 20.
That’s the bonus, not the final salary.
Although he threw for 33 scores, that’s in large part due to the supporting cast. Four receiving targets had over 500 yards through the air while five different pass-catchers hauled in at least five scores.
Only rookie Chase Claypool averaged more than 14 yards per catch. Roethlisberger’s average throw was a career-low at 6.3 yards per play.
The return of Big Ben not only will cost the Steelers a hefty price, but it will limit their chance at winning in free agency. Names including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva and James Conner all will hit the open market.
Pittsburgh also might consider cutting ties with Joe Haden and Vince Williams since both could be considered cap casualties in the long run.
This is a new Steelers team, with few players likely to return next season. Keith Butler’s defense did their job bailing out the sluggish offense in moments. It won’t be the same top-10 unit unless they can draft starters early on or sign veterans on cap-happy deals.
From NFL Now on @nflnetwork on #Steelers GM Kevin Colbert's statements on Ben Roethlisberger today and why I'm having trouble figuring out what plan the team could have that doesn't include Roethlisberger's return. pic.twitter.com/SbvFlQnNby
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 17, 2021
If Roethlisberger stays, they’ll need to protect the aging quarterback. At least three starters are expected to be gone from the unit that allowed just 14 sacks last season.
There’s no real solution to the problems Pittsburgh enters in 2021. The AFC North is getting better while they are getting worse. Roethlisberger offers the best chance to contend with a great supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
It’s an either/or scenario for the Steelers should he be on the roster. That’s a problem that can either be fractured with Roethlisberger in the picture or fixed with him out of it.